Couldn't they just dance? The new show by the Argentine company Tango por Dos comes so laden with plot and significance that the dancers hardly have room to move.
Couldn't they just dance? The new show by the Argentine company Tango por Dos comes so laden with plot and significance that the dancers hardly have room to move. Tango una Leyenda is a series of scenes illustrating the history of tango and Argentina. The structure is familiar enough, but Miguel Angel Zotto's choreography barely uses the dance. The give and take between couples can be sensational, but it's not the kind of drama that Zotto is looking for. His stories concern downtrodden waifs and cruel oppressors; the resilient toughness of this dance doesn't fit.
Take the white-slave-trade scene. The girls are unloaded at the docks (the top of the split-level set) and stripped to their body stockings. They huddle in various degrees of embarrassment until someone provides them with lingerie. Once kitted out in camisoles and stockings, they take quite cheerfully to the tango. But they're still hapless victims, so they dance without bite.
A later scene brings on the revolution. The outraged populace cross the upper level, waving red flags, only to be routed by a military policeman dancing a sort of tap goose-step.
In all the excitement, there isn't a single exhibition number for the first half-hour. We applaud with relief when they get down to it: Zotto and Soledad Rivero are stylish dancers. In couple dancing, he is best in the bold, emphatic moves. The fast, stamping footwork looks sharp in his solos but those raised knees are hectic when he's with a partner. Rivero is elegant and at first rather impersonal. Then, in a humorous mannequin number, she turns out to be a witty comic. She's a shop-window dummy, he's in a daydream, and it's the evening's show-stopper. They rattle along the very front of the stage, sometimes dipping a foot over the edge. She teeters, straight-limbed; he dips and swoons around her.
The music is sometimes live, sometimes good. Many of the dramas use old tango recordings. It doesn't make very much difference: Zotto doesn't respond to the immediacy of live music. His orchestra is decent, though the musicians don't always have the authority for their solo numbers. Two singers belt out numbers, very loud, without much nuance. It's all very heavily amplified.
The company looks good in the few non-dramatic moments. Several couples dance simply in a birthday-party scene, social dancing with few flashy steps. It's beautifully soft dance, with smooth, light footwork and a few sharp dips. There's room to notice individual styles and personalities.
Given space, some of the dancers could be knockouts. In the plainest company number, one couple danced with luscious phrasing, full and soft, before slicing to a close.
The second half is dominated by what I take to be a symbolic view of Buenos Aires. There are marionettes; there are clowns with a bicycle. There are girls in short macs with angel wings and cowboy boots, one of whom rolls across the floor with a clown. Thank heaven for the curtain calls, a last rush of real dancing and live music.
To 8 May (020-7863 8222)